Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Down South

Crossing the mighty Waitaki River - one of the strange braided rivers that rush down from the Southern Alps - I passed yesterday into Otago and the associated region of Southland: all settled in the mid-nineteenth century by Scotsmen, founding an antipodean colony, initially at least as a haven for Wee Frees (to this day, the largest denomination is Presbyterian... but in N.Z. this is now like the Uniting Church in Australia, alas). I did notice the use of such Scots words as "wee", though I'm not sure I've yet heard the Southland Burr (the pronunciation of all r's in words, even in the middle of a syllable or at its end - Scots and Americans do this, but not Australians). Prior to the abolition of the provinces in 1876, Otago with its capital at Dunedin (founded as a new Edinburgh) was the richest and most prosperous province, since conveniently enough for the canny Scots gold was discovered up country, thereby funding the University of Otago and other important public works... as well as attracting Irish Catholics, who soon enough had their own Bishop at Dunedin. (His cathedral, which I briefly visited and briefly mentioned in my last post, was also built by Francis Petre, as was the adjoining Priory... Petre also built the beautiful but grim lunatic asylum at Seacliff, scene of a wartime tragedy when many inmates, locked up for their own safety, were asphyxiated when a fire broke out; the buildings are all demolished now owing to unstable ground, poetically enough, but for an outbuilding now for - backpackers.)
Since I'm in Scotland of the South, last night I went to Scotia, an upmarket Scottish restaurant, and had haggis. (If Fr Z can blog about food, so can I.) The Dunedin-brewed Speight's beer I had with it was excellent: as the locals say, quoting a cryptic line of their national anthem, "Guard Pacific's triple star" (there are three stars on the Speight's logo). If I had wished for a whisky, there were ten pages of whiskies to choose from (by the bottle or dram), mostly single malts, including rare and expensive drops from closed distilleries...
By the way, Fr Clement Mary, F.Ss.R., had told me previously a suitably maudlin Scottish story about Dunedin: a Scotsman there, drunk, he rode his bicycle down Stuart Street - Dunedin's streets are notoriously steep, indeed the steepest street in the world is in Dunedin - and died when he lost control and crashed straight into the great statue of Robbie Burns that the guid burghers of Dunedin had erected in the centre of their city.
I didn't leave Dunedin this morning till nearly lunchtime (and had a good late breakfast after Mass of lamb's fry, in honour of St Philip); the day was cool but brilliantly sunny, until I struck a strange patch of thick mist for the 30 km between Balclutha and Clinton, right in the middle of the day, which disappeared as swiftly as it came. Very amusingly, the New Zealanders have renamed the road from Clinton to Gore the Presidential Highway! (Well, it almost happened...)
Travelling through N.Z. can be beguiling: it seems to an Aussie not really a foreign land, but then you see mountains such as never seen in Australia, with snow and everything, like in The Lord of the Rings or something (yes, I do realize where they filmed it)... the differences are very minor, such as the famous clipped New Zealand pronunciation of short "i" - so a man called Kim has his name said Km. Also, local newspapers use Maori words like hikoi (a protest march, I think) without comment, words not used in English elsewhere. (My Maori language exposure has been restricted to a CD of songs I have bought to play in the car - the harmonies are soaring, albeit with kitsch instrumentals - and watching some of an episode of "Kai Time" on the Maori Channel: a bizarre programme, with the host, a very macho Maori, going hunting deer and other introduced wildlife, talking in Maori except when giving orders to his Pakeha guide, actually being shewn shooting his prey, and then cooking a gourmet meal from his prizes, such as marinated deer steaks served with paua, a native abalone: surf and turf, Kiwi-style.)
The most confusing difference I've discovered is that the N.Z. $2 coin is larger than their $1 coin, whereas in Australia the reverse is the case; their coinage is, I must admit, lighter, smaller and more convenient than the Australian - a Yank once really annoyed me by complaining about our heavy great coins, but I will acknowledge the truth in his rude observation. Oh, and there's a roadsign that I can't understand: the sign is round, blue, with a red border and a red diagonal cross through it - I hope I haven't disobeyed it, I think it prohibits passing ...
Two pet peeves to end with: those absurdly small milk satchets that hotels provide - even with three of them you can hardly get enough milk into your cup of tea - and the horrid Porter's tea bags that N.Z. hotels supply - you need two of them to get a strong enough cuppa.
I sign off, from Te Anau on the borders of Fiordland. God defend New Zealand.

2 comments:

Mark said...

Lovely to hear about NZ. Must visit some time. Greetings from the Edinburgh of the North! ;-P

Joshua said...

Thanks, Mark! I was reminded of your previous comments by each and every New Zealander who's said "wee" over the past few days...

Oremus pro invicem.